Early in the offseason, it was reported that Craig Kimbrel was looking for a six-year deal worth over $100 million dollars. Right then, a Kimbrel reunion in Atlanta was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Fast forward one month, and Kimbrel remains unsigned while the competition for his services continues to dwindle.
The Mets went out and traded for Edwin Diaz to lock up their closer’s spot for the foreseeable future. The Phillies seem much more interested in Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Even if they fail to land one of those two, they recently inked David Robertson to a much more manageable deal. Other teams that have shown a willingness to spend this offseason, like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros all have quality closers in place.
And finally, even the Red Sox seem hesitant on bringing back their closer at a hefty price. In an interview with with Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Red Sox GM, Dave Dombrowski had this to say in regard to bringing back Kimbrel, “Craig did a great job for us, he’s a Hall of Fame reliever,’’ Dombrowski says, “but we have not anticipated having a large expenditure for a closer.’’
It’s worth noting Boston went into last season with the highest payroll in the MLB and plans to do so again in 2019 – with or without Kimbrel. They already re-signed Nathan Eovaldi to a fat, four-year contract worth $67.5 million, and spent another $6.25 million on World Series MVP Scott Pearce.
With all that said, it’s virtually a guarantee Kimbrel does not get anywhere near his nine-figure asking price. In reality, he could be looking at a three or four-year deal with an AAV of around $15 million. If that’s the case, the Braves have a realistic shot at landing him.
An article on CBS Sports projects the Braves as the second likeliest landing spot right behind the Boston Red Sox. Atlanta flipped the switch this offseason by signing Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann after winning the NL East last year, but they can’t be serious about contending without addressing their Achilles’ heel from 2018 – the bullpen.
There is no telling what the Braves will get out of Arodys Vizcaino next year. He was a solid closing option, but his health failed him at the end of the season and could hinder him some more in 2019. A.J. Minter served as the closer in his place, and while he has closer’s stuff, he’s best served as a 7th or 8th inning man this early in his career barring a jump in production. Atlanta also has veterans like Jonny Venters and Darren O’Day to clean up in the later innings, but neither should be relied on to close ball games.
Atlanta could probably make it by with this group along with a couple of emerging arms, and closer should by no means be their principal concern. The Braves are currently slated to have Adam Duvall starting in their outfield. I don’t see that being the case, so they are going to have to spend some money in free agency unless they go the trade route.
Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Braves remain in contact with A.J. Pollack along with other free agent outfielders. If the Braves were to sign Pollack, that would likely take them out of the running for Kimbrel. By choosing to go the trade route or signing a lesser free agent like Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, it could leave the Braves with enough spare cash to make a serious push for Kimbrel.
The Braves are one of the few competing teams that still need a closer and have the money to get a deal done with Kimbrel. I wouldn’t count out teams like the Phillies and White Sox, especially if they lose out in the Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes, but a reunion in Atlanta appears much more fathomable than it did two months ago.